Berkowitz to BEDC: ‘Failure is not an option’

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

Amidst the elegance and ambiance of the Magic Lantern’s Tannery Pub, the 13 men and women chosen to lead Bridgton into a 21st Century global economy sat around a long conference table Tuesday. A 14th person, Lee Eastman, chairman of the Bridgton Economic Development Committee, sat in from Florida through the magic of a live video feed.
If they didn’t know already of the serious commitment they were making in agreeing to serve on the board of directors of the newly-inaugurated Bridgton Economic Development Corporation, Bridgton Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz made that perfectly clear in his opening remarks.

Bridgton stands at a crossroads, he said. Jobs are scarce. National chain development looms. Small-town character is prized. Ordinances need updating.

They, as members of a private non-profit corporation working with local government, must be the visionaries. The practitioners. The educators. The motivators.

And, of course, the realists. As a tax-exempt corporation, they can buy and sell real estate; one of their first projects will be the redevelopment of the former Bridgton Memorial School on Depot Street, provided voters agree to sell the property to them at town meeting.

It won’t be easy to find the right mix of retail and industrial development in a tourist town, Berkowitz told them. It goes without saying that everyone won’t be happy, no matter what they do.

However large the challenge, “Failure is not an option,” Berkowitz said. Past initiatives similar to the BEDC ended badly, because they didn’t sustain their core mission or the work that was needed.

“Each of you now must undertake the task of defining our future, our values and who we will become, pending on which path is taken,” Berkowitz said. “As a community we have evolved,” and there’s a great need right now for experienced leaders with vision that are willing to work hard and try new initiatives to advance economic development.

The board members, in short, are being asked to continue the proud legacy of the Bridgton Industrial Development Corporation, which revived Bridgton in the 1960s by attracting Malden Mills and Sebago Moc to town. Those two businesses revitalized the industrial sector, and provided a strong base for Bridgton’s growth spurt of the last quarter century. Before they closed their doors, the two manufacturers employed over 500 people from Bridgton and surrounding towns.

At Tuesday’s meeting, members of the economic development committee formally voted to create the corporation, whose first order of business was to elect officers. Eastman, northeast director of Everlast Roofing Co., was voted in as chairman. Vice president will be Ed Rock, general manager and vice president of Shawnee Peak. Holly Dvorak, assistant vice president and branch manager of TD Bank, will serve as treasurer, while Patrick “Skip” Sullivan, retired auto industry executive, will serve as secretary.

Dvorak and Sullivan, along with Selectman Woody Woodward, owner of Highland Lake Resort, are the three citizen board members who were appointed by the Board of Selectmen. Other local business leaders who were interviewed and asked to join by Manoian and the BEDC are Eastman and Rock, along with David Allen, chief operating officer of Howell Labs; Mark Lopez, owner of Lopez Development; Zenya Brackett, director of operations for Radiodetection/SPX; Laurie Allen, vice president and branch manager at Norway Savings Bank; David Frum, president and chief executive officer of Bridgton Hospital; Elizabeth Marcella, associate broker at Chalmers Insurance; Wayne Warner, chairman of the SAD 61 Board of Directors; Bill Macdonald, general manager of Macdonald Motors; and Jim Mains Jr., executive director of the Greater Bridgton/Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.

The corporation’s purpose, as stated in its bylaws, is as follows:

• To encourage, stimulate and advance sustainable local economic development, expansion and diversification within the town of Bridgton;

• To lessen the burden of government by creating a larger tax base, fostering community reinvestment, supporting the retention and expansion of existing businesses, attraction of sustainable and innovative enterprise, alleviating unemployment, and promoting social welfare for the benefit of all residents.

The board must be comprised of at least nine directors, elected to three-year terms by the sitting board at their annual meeting, and have three citizen directors appointed by selectmen who will serve two year terms.

“The success of the Bridgton Economic Development Corporation will be measured by investments we have attracted, jobs retained and created, properties developed, growth management ordinances developed, the graduates reflecting the skills and readiness to be entrepreneurs, the human collaborations and networks that transcend the people who started them, the community who recognizes the philosophy and the values of your strategies,” Berkowitz said. “The successes you achieve will be evident in a myriad of ways, while our failures will be very pronounced. Failure is not an option and it will be our nemesis dogging every initiative from here on.”

The corporation agreed to rotate its meeting locations at different business locations each month, and to hold hour-long meetings on the third Tuesday of each month at 4 p.m. Their next meeting will be on Tuesday, Feb. 15 in the conference room of Chalmers Insurance Agency.

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